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The Vocal Ladder

November 5, 2009

Many vocalists and voice teachers talk about the voice as a ladder. Each note has its own rung, and to sing properly, you must find where each rung sits. If you try to sing a note with the wrong placement, it’s like slipping off the ladder, or skipping a rung on your way up or down. It can be done, but it’s not safe or pretty.

I had rehearsal yesterday with Wendy and Harvey. We went through the duets first. What fun! I’m so excited about doing a truly collaborative recital, not just be singing “my” stuff and Wendy singing “her” stuff. We’re doing 6 duets interspersed between other solo song repertoire. Arias get all the glory, but duets are inevitably more fun because you get to harmonize and play off of one another. It’s always more exciting and less scary to be singing with someone else on stage with you.

As we moved on to my solo repertoire, I found myself “clicking in” to the ladder. Muscle memory kicked in. I started remembering how to sing. Things felt a little different, a little foreign because I haven’t prepared for a recital in quite a while, but also familiar. It was a relief. Like, oh, yeah, I do know how to sing. It also helped that I was having a good vocal day, which any singer can attest happens seemingly rarely and never for performances.

Now I have to figure out how to hold on to that feeling of knowing what I’m doing, and keep finding my way back to the ladder. I’m testing my limits, assessing where my voice is, how much I can push, how much I can hold back, how pianissimo, how forte, how allegro, how long a phrase. The room is lovely in that it’s very live, so I don’t have to worry at all about being heard. I want to focus on text and expression as much as possible, particularly with the pieces that I’ve already performed previously. I finally transferred my last recital to DVD, but I haven’t yet watched it all the way through. I’m wondering if it will be useful and instructive, or just give me bad vibes. I’m feeling optimistic about it today, so maybe I’ll take my chances and watch myself.

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